After the screening I attended of Wes Anderson’s latest, Asteroid City, I overheard a couple of critics saying how much they loved his films and what a genius he is, and I was minded to interrupt with: ‘What, even though he’s been making exactly the same film for years now?’ Or: ‘What, even though I kept waiting for it to take a shape and it never did?’ But I was too shy, so I’ll let it all out here. The problem with Wes Anderson films, it now occurs to me, is that they are Wes Anderson films, and my patience has run out.
Asteroid City is a film set within a play that, in turn, is set within a TV documentary, and if this sounds confusing, it’s probably because it is. It has a starry cast that’s not just longer than your arm but longer than the arm of someone who say, has such long arms it’s freakish and they’ve had to join the circus. The cast includes Scarlett Johansson, Tom Hanks, Jason Schwartzman, Jeffrey Wright, Tilda Swinton, Bryan Cranston, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Matt Dillon, Margot Robbie, Steve Carell, Edward Norton and Rupert Friend. Apparently, it also includes Jarvis Cocker in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it role but I blinked and missed it. Either that, or I was dozing, which would have to be likelier. I don’t know how Anderson attracts such A-listers. What does he have on them?
The late film critic Roger Ebert once said that Anderson suffered from ‘terminal whimsy’ and it does seem to be incurable and getting worse. The Grand Budapest Hotel, The French Dispatch… pure whimsy featuring a deadpan comic tone, an exaggerated palette of colours, highly stylised production design, a lateral-moving camera and fetishised retro objects at the expense of any plot development or taking the characters anywhere that might matter.